Alfred Richard Cecil Selwyn

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Alfred Richard Cecil Selwyn, CMG, LL.D, FRS, FGS (26 July 1824 – 19 October 1902) was a British geologist and public servant, director of the Geological Survey of Victoria from 1852–1869, director of Geological Survey of Canada 1869–1894 and President of the Royal Society of Canada 1895-1896.[1]

Early life

Selwyn was born in Kilmington, Somerset (now in Wiltshire), England, the son of the Rev. Townshend Selwyn (Canon of Gloucester Cathedral) and his wife, Charlotte Sophia, daughter of Lord George Murray, bishop of St David's, Wales,[1] and granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Athol.

Educated by private tutors at home and afterwards in Switzerland, Selwyn there became interested in geology, and in 1845 he joined the staff of the Geological Survey of Great Britain under Sir Henry De la Beche and Sir A. C. Ramsay. Selwyn was actively engaged in the survey of North Wales and bordering portions of Shropshire, and a series of splendid geological maps resulted from his joint work with Ramsay and J. B. Jukes, earning a great commendation from Ramsay. Selwyn was promoted to geologist on 1 January 1848.[1]


File:Selwyn Rock 1.JPG
In 1859 Selwyn discovered a glacial pavement at Inman Valley, later dated to the Permian

In 1852 the Colonial Office appointed Selwyn director of the Geological Survey of Victoria of the recently founded colony of Victoria, where he built up an excellent staff including Richard Daintree, C. D. H. Aplin, Charles Smith Wilkinson, Reginald Murray, Edward John Dunn, Henry Yorke Lyell Brown and Robert Etheridge, Junior, with Sir Frederick McCoy as palaeontologist. He was a strict disciplinarian and from the beginning set up a very high standard of work in his department. During his 17 years as director over 60 geological maps were issued which were among the best of their period; they were models of accuracy which established a tradition of geological mapping in Australia. Selwyn was well qualified to analyse the Silurian strata. He was also responsible for several reports on the geology of Victoria, and added much to the knowledge of gold-bearing rocks. Selwyn discovered the Caledonian goldfield near Melbourne in 1854 and in the following year reported on coal seams in Tasmania, until in 1869 the Colonial Legislature brought the Survey to an abrupt termination on economic grounds.


In 1869 Sir William E. Logan had just retired from the office of director of the Geological Survey of Canada, and Selwyn was appointed his successor and took up his duties on 1 December 1869. There was a huge area of land to be covered, and though the staff was increased, it was inadequate.

File:Selwyn GSC survey party 1871.jpg
Selwyn (seated at centre) and his field party, during their 1871 survey of British Columbia

Selwyn's period of 25 years as director was full of activity and a large amount of work was done. In 1870 he made a valuable report on the goldfields of Nova Scotia, in the following year he was on the other side of Canada exploring in British Columbia, and in the next year he was working between Lake Superior and Winnipeg. Selwyn kept in mind that however interesting problems might be from a scientific point of view, a government survey must be able to collect the facts and bring them to bear on questions of public utility. Every year he presented a Summary of the geological investigations made by his staff. He devoted particular attention to the Pre-Cambrian rocks of Quebec.

In 1874 Selwyn was elected fellow of the Royal Society, in 1876 he was awarded the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London, and he was created CMG in 1886 for his distinguished work as assistant to the Canadian Commissioners at the exhibitions in Philadelphia (1876), Paris (1878) and London (1886). Selwyn was awarded the Clarke Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1884. In 1884, he wrote the Canadian portion of Edward Stanford's Compendium of Geography and Travel.[2]

Selwyn retired in 1894 to Vancouver in British Columbia, where he died on 19 October 1902. Selwyn Rock (an exposed Permian glacial pavement) at Inman Valley in South Australia, Selwyn Range in the Canadian Rockies and in North West Queensland and Selwyn Street in Hackett, a suburb of the Australian Capital Territory are named after him.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Branagan, D. F.; K. A. Townley. "Selwyn, Alfred Richard Cecil (1824 - 1902)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Archived from the original on 10 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Literary Gossip". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts. 1 (15): 238. 13 Mar 1884. Retrieved 29 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Preceded by
Ferdinand von Mueller
Clarke Medal
Succeeded by
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
James MacPherson Le Moine
President of the Royal Society of Canada
Succeeded by
Cornelius O'Brien